In 2010, Chris Bertish paddled into 25-foot waves en route to a win at the Mavericks Surf Contest, an annual competition at one of the world's most famous (and nastiest) big-wave breaks. On Tuesday, Bertish paddled out to conquer something even more massive — roughly 4,600 miles larger, in fact.
The 42-year-old South African surfer and sailor set out to become the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean unassisted on a stand-up paddleboard.
The journey he has laid out for himself takes him from the Agadir Marina in Morocco, on the northwest coast of Africa, past the Canary Islands and Virgin Islands and straight through to northern Florida.
He expects the lonely voyage to take approximately four months.
The idea, however, has been three to four years in the making, Bertish told Surfline.com in an interview published last month. "All the logistics and preparation and planning and training has been exponential. It's by far the most challenging thing I've ever tried to do," he said.
The project, which he calls The Sup Crossing, has collected corporate sponsors and is soliciting donations. Bertish says the funds will go toward three charities: Signature of Hope Trust, the Lunchbox Fund and Operation Smile.
Though the open seas threaten rough waves and deceptive currents, Bertish told The New York Times that 90 percent of his challenge lies in just the first five days, as he battles the wind and currents to get farther out to sea.
Once he does, he expects to paddle about the length of a marathon each night, resting during the days to diminish the risk of exposure. And he'll be doing all of this in a state-of-the-art vessel that belies the simple term "stand-up paddleboard." After all, the Times reports, the $120,000 craft boasts a watertight cabin where Bertish can sleep, as well as "satellite weather forecasting equipment, logistics and routing services, stationary and hand-held VHF radios" — and, well, the long list goes on.
According to the project's announcement this summer, Bertish will use some of this equipment to record data not only on the environment through which he's paddling, but also on himself.
"Data will be uploaded by Chris daily, which the Sport Science Institute [of South Africa] will assess and review and in turn formulate a full case study which will be used for research by students at the [University of Cape Town] Sports Science department," the statement reads.
Perhaps it's a relief there will be some more eyes on Bertish's progress. The last attempt to make the trans-Atlantic journey by stand-up paddleboard, launched earlier this year by Nicolas Jarossay, ended quickly in disaster.
Just 30 miles into his attempt, SUP Magazine reports Jarossay's board capsized, leaving him stranded and fighting off hypothermia as a rescue team tracked him down, finding him only by "an incredible stroke of luck."
So far, at least, Bertish has already gotten farther than Jarossay. Only time — and thousands of miles of open sea — will tell if he gets all the way to his destination.
You can track his progress in real time here.